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Transfer Rumor of the Day: Papiss Demba Cisse

Anzhi Makhachkala have reportedly made an approach for Papiss Cisse. Would he fit in their system?

Stu Forster

Papiss Cisse has been the subject of rumors regarding a possible transfer to Russian Premier League team Anzhi Makhachkala, as reported by Russian paper Izvestia (via Yahoo!). Anzhi, who Newcastle defeated in the Europa League Round of 16 this year, are said to be offering €18 million (currently ~ £15.4 million), though Toon officials have denied being approached formally (The Northern Echo). According to the Yahoo! article, Anzhi are prepared to bump his wages from £40,000 per week (The Telegraph) to £50,000 per week. Nickolay Guido, Cisse's agent, is quoted in many of the stories reporting Anzhi's interest, leading some to speculate that this entire exercise may be manufactured leverage to broker a new deal for his client.

EDIT: There are now conflicting reports about whether or not Guido represents Cisse. This Shields-Gazette article claims that he does not, but news organizations like The Northern Echo and Sky Sports continue to publish stories featuring direct quotes from Guido as his agent.

The story is believable enough, considering Anzhi's track record of spending in their attempts to keep up with CSKA Moskva. They were just two points behind the Moscow team at the winter break, when Newcastle came to town, but fell off the pace in the second half and finished in third behind CSKA and Zenit. Indeed, the upper echelon of the Russian Premier League has been no stranger to expensive, high profile signings. Zenit recently purchased Hulk for €55 million, Yann M'Vila spurned Arsenal to join Rubin Kazan, and Anzhi followed up their record signing of Samuel Eto'o in 2011 by nabbing Lacina Traore (for the familiar price tag of €18 million) last summer and Willian in January for €35 million. There's every reason to believe that they have the money to spend, and they'll be motivated to do so. Anzhi once again missed qualifying for the Champions League, this time by one place. They can offer Cisse the chance to play in the Europa League again, and they can also reasonably sell a shot at the Champs League in the future.

But do they need him? Andy Shenk of Russian Football News told us in March that Anzhi's biggest weakness was at center back following the departure of Christopher Samba. Defenders don't typically cost as much forwards, so a move for Cisse or any other striker wouldn't necessarily preclude plugging the holes at the back, but it seems as if they might be set up front. Traore appeared 34 times in all competitions last season, but that number is a bit deceiving, as many of those were for less than 90 minutes. Given improved fitness, the 1-2 of Eto'o and Traore with Willian supporting should suffice. As far as Cisse is concerned, the situation is a matter of perspective: Would a move east mean giving up playing time, or would it be a transition to a system that gives him a better chance to thrive?

If Anzhi are indeed serious and put enough cash on the table that Mike Ashley can't say no, they'll be getting a well-balanced striker with exceptional finishing skills. His scoring record has suffered without the presence of Demba Ba or reliable service, but he would have both a strike partner and plenty of chances delivered to him in Dagestan. That scoring record (13 goals in 47 appearances, compared to 13 in 14 appearances for Newcastle the previous year) is somewhat harsh, as Papiss had numerous goals (up to 8, depending on how you interpret certain decisions) wrongly disallowed in 2012-13, many of them offside calls that shouldn't have been.

Cisse's propensity to drift offside has been a hot topic among Newcastle fans this season, with many making the maddening suggestion that he "should learn the offside rule." Certainly the striker shares some of the blame when he is caught on the wrong side of the defense, but mistimed runs can often be placed at the feet of those delivering the passes as well. One of the Magpies' exposed weaknesses in 2012-13 was the lack of a consistent link from the midfield to the forward(s). The cause of this deficiency is another discussion for another day. The takeaway is that Newcastle played a lot of long balls over the top to a player who is not well-suited for that type of system, so he was reduced to making several speculative runs each match, resulting in plentiful offside calls. In other words, while I would go so far as to say that drifting offside isn't a weakness for Cisse, it's certainly an overblown aspect of his game. The most important part of his game is the danger he poses in and out of the box.

If Newcastle can avoid selling him to Anzhi or to anybody else and bring in a consistent strike partner to take the pressure off of him, his chances and therefore his successful chances should increase. The rate at which he scored goals in 2011-12 was unsustainable, but he should be able to improve on 2012-13 under the right circumstances. Put simply: Papiss Cisse wasn't the problem last year. Improve around him and he will improve as well.

I believe Newcastle would be mad to sell him at £15 million, even if they did have a legitimate replacement ready to step in and take on his role. They don't. If it takes increasing his wages to make him happy and therefore crippling their chances at making one additional transfer this summer, I do that. He's important to the team, and should be retained.

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